A local promotor contacted me about a BJJ Super Fight on his MMA card two months ago. I’ve been an active competitor on the regional jiu-jitsu scene for quite a while now and have built up a bit of a following in Florida, so promotors contact me a lot to fill out their cards.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I would gladly jump at the opportunity to compete anytime, anywhere for the magical “exposure” these cards promised to bring me. But now I am old and tired, slowly approaching forty-five, and have significantly lost the will to train for competitions, so my answer took a little longer.
I agreed, with meager expectations, but not because I wanted to reignite my run for the next WNO title or ONE Championship victory. Instead, I decided because I had just opened my academy in central Florida and wanted to wear my rash guard on the competition mat to promote some recognition towards it.
About three weeks out, I discovered that my opponent would be an old nemesis, William Vincent. William beat me in the quarterfinals of the East Coast ADDC trails three years ago by a penalty point in overtime. I was on a great run that year, so the loss was significant.
Now, Coach Kevin the jiu-jitsu monk spent the last three years meditating away the anxiety from that traumatic loss. But the demon inside me that drives me to win never forgets, and he fucking hates to lose. So, that roadblock to my dream of competing in ADCC became my motivation for every training session.
But let’s also be realistic. I’m an old man now, forty-four to be exact and my opponent recently turned 30.
He would also have a substantial size advantage in the match. I am generally underweight for the ADCC -95KG division we compete in at the trails. William cuts down typically. I also recently changed my diet and am considerably lighter than my ADCC days, so I would weigh in around 193 to a much larger opponent at 230 in our agreed-upon unlimited weight match.
So, what started as a flippant agreement to jump on a local card to promote my gym quickly became an old dog pushing himself for one last fight at redemption against astronomical odds.
I’m a writer with a flair for the dramatic, but it motivates me.
Weeks went by, and I felt more and more prepared. My initial expectations of “just don’t embarrass yourself” became, “I can win this thing” as we entered the last week of the event.
I woke up Monday before the match and planned the week. Three more days of hard training, two lifting sessions, then rest till go time Saturday. I like to stick to that routine whenever possible.
I also had a commentary gig Friday night on Josh Leduc’s contender series where a few of my students would be competing. I planned to pull double duty as a coach and enjoy a leisurely night before the big match the next day.
But, Thursday afternoon Josh texted me. Nearly half his card dropped out due to covid, including Andrew Tacket from the main event and one of the participants from a four-person master’s tournament he put together. So, he asked me to jump into the master’s bracket on short notice to keep from possibly canceling the card. There was a $500 cash prize to the winner to sweeten the pot, so I agreed; even though I knew it would hinder my performance in the match I dedicated myself to over the last six weeks.
I won the tournament and got a dope ring for my trophy case and $500 for the bank account. But the windfall of accomplishment began to put more questions in my head about waking up the next day and making the 2-hour drive to Orlando for an overmatched competition against a younger, stronger, and larger opponent for zero financial compensation.
I accomplished everything I set out to do on Friday night, plus a cash prize bonus. Why the hell do I need to go to Orlando now?
The answer can be summed up in three words that so many young competitors I encounter are missing—pride, accountability, and character.
I agreed to be on that card even though it was a shitty deal, and the promotor overmatched me. I was looking for an easy ride just to promote my gym, and this was not it.
Also, I was only getting paid to sell tickets, and there was no way I was hustling my people to drive halfway across the state to watch me.
It would be a wash, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this in the past. If I’m lucky, I usually compete for next to nothing or win enough money to cover my gas and a hotel room.
I’ve competed injured, I’ve lost money at work, and sometimes even jeopardized my job period all for the sake of climbing the ladder as a “professional jiu-jitsu athlete.”
But, when I say I’m going to be there, I’m going to be there, and I’m going to show up ready to lay it on the line till my last breath every time. Not because I want to get paid or farm 10k Instagram followers. But because I take pride that promoters know when they book me on a show, they will always get my best.
I lost on Saturday, but I came ready to perform and brought everything I had. I just got caught—all respect due to Mr. Vincent.
Young competitors, please take notice. Skill and talent are only half the equations, and the fame should only come because you earned it. Professional grappling is too small of a sport to worry about who you are fighting and how much you will get paid or if you’ll be tired for the next competition.
So, the next time a promotor slips an invite into your DM’s, just fucking say yes. It means they have noticed your abilities and want you to be on their show to display them. Then, show up ready to go with no bullshit excuses.
Trust me. You will be getting calls every weekend soon, maybe even twice a week, but you have to show the world that you have the pride, accountability, and character to follow through first.